3 things a fresh cow wants

Posted on July 28, 2017 in Dairy Performance
By Stacy Nichols
A fresh cow pen should provide cows with a clean, comfortable environment to recover from calving and minimize the social stress they experience when being moved into new groups.  The primary goal of a fresh group must be to minimize health events to allow cows to reach their production potential.

1. “I like attention.”
By grouping fresh cows separately, herd managers can better organize their time to coincide with fresh cows returning from the milking parlor into lockups.  The advantage here is that fresh cows can receive needed attention while in lockups, and disruption in cow behavior is minimized.  Furthermore, animal behavior studies and field observations indicate social advantages to grouping fresh cows separately.

2. “I need my space.”
Based on what we know today, the two major factors that will allow a fresh cow to transition well are providing a minimum of 30 inches of feedbunk space and providing uninterrupted access to properly sized, well-bedded freestalls or a well-maintained bed pack.  Minimizing competition at the feedbunk and providing adequate lying space in the pre- and post-fresh period greatly help the cow reach her genetic potential.

When designing a fresh cow pen, determine the number of cows it accommodates based on predicted maximum calving flow.  Dairies that undersize transition cow pens typically struggle with more health events during periods of peak calving.  If the fresh pen is undersized during high calving periods, you may need to reduce the number of days in the fresh pen for cows that are transition well.

3. “I’m hungry.”
Another benefit of a fresh cow group is that the nutrition program can be tailored to help cows transition to the milking ration, and specific nutritional additives can be targeted to the group.  We want to help fresh cows get off to a great start by providing a ration that allows them to maximize intake and metabolize energy appropriately and enhances the immune system:

  • Fiber:  Provide adequate levels of non-sortable effective fiber.
  • Starch:  Researchers recommend that the difference in starch levels between the pre-fresh and fresh cow ration be no more than 10 percentage units.  This will allow a better transition with less risk for off-feed events.
  • Protein:  Fresh cows are unable to meet the protein demands of very early lactation due to low intakes.  Balance fresh cow rations for amino acids and provide more metabolizable protein per pound of dry matter than high-cow rations to reduce negative protein balance.
  • Fat:  Research results on fat supplementation in the fresh period are mixed.  Fats raise energy concentration, but can potentially reduce dry matter intake (DMI).
  • Minerals, vitamins and additives:  Formulate the fresh cow rations to the DMI of that group to ensure that feeding rates of additives and fortification of trace minerals and vitamins are not diluted.

“Time for me to move.”
Michigan State University researchers suggest that good herd managers can move cows out of a fresh pen when they meet the following three criteria:

  • Greater than five days in milk
  • Milk production above 85 pounds
  • A full rumen

When a high-producing cow has a full rumen, her production is limited by bulk fill and intake, not by the energy density of the fresh cow diet.  Therefore, the cow is a candidate to move onto the high-cow diet, which is less filling, has a higher energy density, and will result in higher intakes.  Moving a cow that does not have a full rumen is not advised at any point in the fresh period as her feed intake is likely inconsistent.

When considering a fresh cow group, work closely with your nutritionist and veterinarian to design a program that fits your herd’s dynamics and goals.  The ability to provide individualized attention, adequate space and optimal nutrition will help your fresh cows transition into the high-cow milking group and reach their production potential.

This article was originally written for the July 2017 issue of Hoard’s Dairyman

About the author:  Stacy Nichols is a Vita Plus dairy technical specialist.  He grew up in northwest Illinois and finished high school in northeast Georgia.  He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dairy science from the University of Georgia.  Nichols was the herdsman at Mississippi State University’s Bearden Dairy Research Center from 1994 to 1996.  He then returned to Georgia as the herdsman on a private 350-cow dairy.  Since 1997, he has been involved in the dairy feed industry on a local, national and global level.  Nichols has considerable experience in transition cow management, nutritional modeling and amino acid formulation. He and his wife, Melissa, have eight children and reside in northwest Indiana. 

Category: Animal health
Cow comfort
Dairy Performance
Facility design